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Popper And Falsificationism

Unlike positivists, Popper accepted the fact that "observation always


presupposes the existence of some system of expectations" (1972: p. 344).
For Popper, the scientific process begins when observations clash with existing
theories or preconceptions. To solve this scientific problem, a theory is
proposed and the logical consequences of the theory (hypotheses) are
subjected to rigorous empirical tests. The objective of testing is the refutation
of the hypothesis. When a theory's predictions are falsified, it is to be
ruthlessly rejected. Those theories that survive falsification are said to be
corroborated and tentatively accepted (Anderson, 1983).

In contrast to the gradually increasing confirmation of induction,


falsificationism substitutes the logical necessity of deduction. Popper exploits
the fact that a universal hypothesis can be falsified by a single negative
instance (Chalmers, 1976). In Popper's approach, if the deductively derived
hypotheses are shown to be false, the theory itself is taken to be false. Thus
the problem of induction is seemingly avoided by denying that science rests
on inductive inference. Anderson (1983) notes that Popper's notion of
corroboration itself depends on an inductive inference. According to
falsificationism, then, science progresses by a process of "conjectures and
refutations" (Popper 1962, p. 46). In this perspective, the objective of science
is to solve problems.

Despite the apparent conformity of much scientific practice with the


falsificationist account, serious problems remain with Popper's version of the
scientific method. For example, Duhem (1953) has noted that it is impossible
to conclusively refute a theory because realistic test situations depend on
much more than just the theory that is under investigation. Quine-Duhem
thesis (Quine, 1953; Duhem, 1962) points out that because of all of the
background assumptions that might be wrong -- flaws in the equipment, the
effects of unknown or wrongly disregarded physical processes, and the like --
any outcome can be rationally distrusted and explained away by ad hoc
hypotheses that alter the background assumptions. Falsification can thus be
regarded as particularly equivocal (Cook and Campbell, 1979).

The recognition that established theories often resist refutation by anomalies


while new theories frequently progress despite their empirical failures, led a
number of writers in the 1950s to challenge the positivistic views of Popper
and the logical empiricists (Suppe 1974). Various philosophers and historians
noted that scientific practice is often governed by a conceptual framework or
world view that is highly resistant to change. In particular, Kuhn pointed out
that the established framework is rarely, if ever, overturned by a single
anomaly (1962). Kuhn's model helped to initiate a new approach in the
philosophy of science in which emphasis is placed on the conceptual
frameworks that guide research activities.